Children generally have a hard time understanding why their parents divorce. They can become depressed or angry and may even start struggling in school when their parents separate. As hard as divorce may be for the average child, it can be even more difficult for a child with special needs to cope with.
Kids with special needs have greater difficulty understanding social and emotional circumstances. They also require predictability, stability and routine to independently navigate daily life. Divorce can alter their daily experience and affect their closest bonds. How can you help protect a child with special needs from the stress of divorce?
Keep their daily routine the same
You and your ex may not currently equally share parental responsibilities or evenly split custody post-divorce. You do still need to reach an agreement about the structure of daily life so that it is consistent no matter where your child is, though.
Having a written daily plan that includes wake-up time, mealtimes, bedtimes and other important daily activities will help your child know what to do and when.
Keep your emotions away from your child
When a child doesn’t always respond to those around them like their neurotypical peers, parents may assume that their child doesn’t listen to them or hear them. Be careful not to delve into your negative emotions in front of your child. Don’t discuss your son or daughter on the phone with someone else while in their presence, either. You should only share your feelings of anger with adults that you trust, such as a therapist.
Your child needs you to focus on their feelings, which can be very chaotic. A counselor or support group can help your child learn to process their feelings and voice them to you.
If you and your ex work together, you can find a way to balance your own needs with the demands of co-parenting a child with special needs during and after your divorce. Involving an attorney in your divorce or child custody negotiations can help you build that effective co-parenting relationship that will minimize conflict and create stability in your child’s life.